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Advanced Stat Preview: Texas A&M

Before we get to the stat portion of this Texas A&M Advanced Stat Preview, let’s dig up some bad blood. I know it’s been a few months, and that’s an eternity in the world of social media, but let me throw this out there:

A couple Clemson players responded to Texas A&M’s true freshman backup safety:

Representing the offense, Amari Rodgers: “Stay in College Station…..You can worry about us come September 8th.”

Representing the defense, Trayvon Mullen: “Well you missed out, realist coordinator out there.”

Don’t think for a minute this is forgotten. Clemson is coming out fired up and looking to put College Football on notice. If Dabo can run up the score, he’s going to do it. We know Dabo is petty, but this is an opportunity to make a recruiting statement with Texas programs being down and Urban Meyer’s reputation in tatters.

Texas A&M By the Numbers

Aggies are excited they put up gaudy numbers in Week 1. They shouldn’t be. Where Furman is a good FCS football program, Northwestern State isn’t. They went 4-7 last year and allowed 40 or more points to Louisiana Tech (52 points), Southeastern Louisiana (49), Sam Houston State (40), Central Arkansas (45), and McNeese (44). They did hold Houston Baptist to 7 points in a 10-7 victory, though.

I get that teams want a guaranteed win; no problem. What’s ridiculous is giving QB1 25 passing attempts, out of 35, and RB1 20 carries. For comparison, Bryant had 16 passing attempts and Etienne had 11 carries. Running up the score instead of giving depth experience is plain silly. The only reason to do that is to build confidence.

Last year’s coaching turmoil means they should be better than they were. We know they are very talented (ranking 15th in 247sports’s 2017 Talent Composite). S&P+ projects a ranking of 23 while FEI projects a ranking of 26. They return a lot of talent on defense, 17 of their top 19 tacklers. That translates to 82% of tackles, 76% of TFL+Sacks, and 83% of PBU/INT. Granted they ranked 47th in defense per FEI, but talent plus experience plus effort could translate to a very solid unit. S&P+ liked their run defense but hated their pass defense. Unfortunately, it’s early in the season and we don’t know for sure what we have with Texas A&M.

Offense and Defense

With a stout defensive line and a talented front 7, they should be very good in run defense. I’m interested in how well DE Kingsley Keke (#8) moves at 6’4”, 305 lbs. He only had 1 sack last year, but 8 run stuffs. Their pass rush will come from DE Landis Durham (6’3”, 255 lbs., #46) and MLB Otaro Alaka (6’3”, 240 lbs., #42). Durham will be a problem. He put up 10.5 sacks and 12 TFL last season and came back for one final year.

On the offensive side of the ball, it’s all about Kellen Mond. Did he truly take a step forward as a passer over the off-season? He wasn’t impressive last year with a completion rate of 51.5% for 6.1 yards per attempt. Include 19 sacks last year (very high 7.7% sack rate), and yards per attempt drop to 5.1. Nick Starkel’s numbers were much better. If Mond doesn’t manage the pocket better and improve his passing game, there’s a good chance we see Starkel.

Texas A&M’s wide receivers are a mystery box. They have 8 sophomore WRs who played last season. With talent and numbers at the position, they should have decent WR play. Their starting TE, Jace Sternberger, is an ’18 JUCO signee from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M where he built his reputation as a receiving TE with 21 catches for 336 yards. Against Northwestern State he had 5 receptions for 56 yards and 2 TD’s. He will be involved in A&M’s passing game.  RB Trayveon Williams is also a pass catching threat, catching 20 of 36 attempts for 196 yards. He will provide an outlet during QB pressures.

Kellen Mond is a dynamic runner and will stress our defense with zone reads. He led the team last year with 6.7 yards per carry and Opportunity Rate, of 47%, percentage of plays that go at least 5 yards.  Williams, their leading rusher, got 4.6 yards per carry and woeful opportunity rate of 26.6%. He was explosive, though.

Questions for Clemson

There are two main questions for Clemson: How will Simmons, Wallace, and Muse react to being put in conflict? Jimbo is going to test them. The second question is: Is Bryant on?

All the questions and performance by Lawrence put a tremendous amount of pressure on Bryant. He’s handled it very well. However, he was off during the Spring Game and it was ugly. It took him a couple series to get into form against Furman. We want Bryant to come out hot and take an early lead. It’s going to be a very tough road environment and Texas A&M will come out hyped. Hopefully this team learned a lesson in the Sugar Bowl and comes out with Alabama’s intensity level. We don’t want to rely on a true freshman, regardless of how talented, to walk into that environment and face that quality of an opponent.

Downfield Passing

We know this team has worked on downfield passing in Spring and Fall camp. From the Spring Game, we have nothing to worry about with Lawrence. Bryant, on the other hand, needs work. The staff let him practice with 6 passing attempts of 16 yards or longer. I suspect they held Lawrence back on purpose, giving him only 2.

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Bottom Line

If we’re going to blow them out, we need Bryant to hit his downfield passes or for Lawrence to be ready. If we’re going to lose, A&M probably needs a schematic advantage or for Bryant to be off and Lawrence intimidated by the environment or pressure.

Expect a Clemson victory; we are 12 point favorites for a reason. Personally, I think this team will come out ready to prove themselves. Dabo isn’t going to call off the dogs. I see either an ugly game that turns into a toss-up or a Clemson blowout. I’m taking the blowout.

Check out what we said about Texas A&M in the off-season here.

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